Unfolding history is a sneaky devil, with mystifying feints, setbacks and misdirection. Seeming triumphs insist on confirmation after the fact. While complexity puzzles our brightest, brash prophets barge in to "explain" away (thus reduce) perplexity. Hard to disprove what is yet to come. Confident predictions don't just laugh at proof but presume a soothsayer with more certitude than accuracy. Thus Laurence Peters' quip, "an economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen," applies to seers far and wide
Prophecy is a paradoxical businesses where the greater the failure, the more boundless the new offering. If yesterday's forecast goes bust, here's a new one fits the future to a tee. And perhaps Eric Hoffer explains the predominant tone of doom and gloom, "We are more prone to generalize the bad than the good. We assume that the bad is more potent and contagious."
How many oracles get fame, money and hit show ratings with "Don't worry. Be happy"? What good is prophecy without fear and trembling, invoking penalty for sinners who won't mend their ways? Ultimately, this prophetic "contagion" depends on a double reach, trusting not just the message but messenger. Are seers not presumptive high priests into whose ears some god whispers? "Handwriting on the wall" at least implies visibility, giving us mere mortals something to go on.
Making predictions about open-ended consequences, especially in religion, history and politics, is a fool's game, especially if reliability counts. When novelists fabricate, they deflect indictments of lying with a default to make-believe. Fiction that does not affirm cannot lie. But prophets are nothing if not serious, emboldened with the conviction of truth. That spurs annoying skeptics to keep asking, "does Crimea mean war, and will it be nuclear?" Or "what, America, today's arch-villain, is not yet a failed state?" Google "spectacularly wrong predictions" and chuckle at a score of discredited posturing, especially the fiascos of political predictions.
When Prophecy Trumps Revelation
When forecasting fails outright, or waxes irrelevant, rivals gloat over your tomfoolery, discrediting your other worthwhile insights. And hitting the mark, once in a blue moon, is a mixed blessing. Your friends must disregard countless misses while resentful foes attribute a lucky bullseye to membership in a satanic cult. Considering the blatant statistic of prognostication is deviance from reality, I side with Peter Trucker: "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window"?
If the past and present weren't so mystifying, historians wouldn't work so hard to find patterns of meaning. In retrospect, the former Soviet Union didn't "bury" us, bomb shelters went unused, and fortunes beyond imagining have been lost (and gained) arming ourselves to the teeth against phantom enemies. Equally telling are misguided 1950's projections: an economy without serious booms and busts, affluence lifts all boats, mechanized marvels replace constant work with leisure, and medical miracles obsolete our most chronic diseases. That worked out well.